In a recent review of a newly-published novel, I concluded that its “polemic” emphasis made me like it less than I might have otherwise. Every plot point seemed to be put there in service of an argument against something, a heavy-handed set of choices I began to find distasteful not far into the book.
So an astute friend asked me pointedly, “Then why read novels?” After all, my friend said, you have to concede that the author has a point and wants to voice it. Well, sure. An author has every right to do that. But my friend meant, I think, to make me look hard at my own choices. If, she was saying, you don’t like a novel to make use of polemic discourse (as Jane Smiley defines it in Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Novel), what do you like — or want — or need — when you choose to read a novel?
An excellent question, which I’d like to tease out a little here at the beginning of a new year, since “novel” means “new” and so far, 2017 is a pretty novel year, and now’s as good a time as any to think about why we should or could want to read novels. (Which I think we should. And short stories too — though I’ll save a discussion of those for another post or two.) For what purposes do we Mormon writers and readers employ novels that might be the same or different from anyone else’s purposes? Do we employ novels in a peculiarly Mormon way that differs from how novels have ever been employed? At first knee-jerk, I don’t think so. But let’s look.
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Your book, Agent in Old Lace, is being re-released this month. I gather it was one of your earlier works, and that you’ve put effort and care into revising and revamping. This story must be near and dear to your heart. Tell me about it?
This story was originally published back in 2009, and was my fourth book ever. I changed its focus from the LDS market to national while still retaining LDS values, and I added something like five thousand words to the length. I think it turned out pretty well. Continue Reading →
Karen, your novel Mothers, Daughters, Sisters, Wives is a set of short stories following a collection of families and their experiences. You focus on the experiences of the women in the family, and a strong theme of faith comes out: belief in the afterlife, how belief/faith influences choices, and how this trickles down through posterity.
First, this is a short story collection, not a novel. The stories explore the concerns of fictional women in four different families, families unrelated to each other. I wrote the stories over the course of several decades. Sometimes I would return to a character at a different point in her life; sometimes I would focus on a different character in the family story. I have become very attached to the women in these families. Some are roughly modeled after women in my own family history. I am keenly aware of the influences on me of my mother and my grandmothers and wanted to write about family connections.
Thank you for that correction. As a novelist, I can get a little “novel-centric.” The stories flowed so well together, it read, for me, like a novel and not a collection of short fiction. And I think this speaks a great deal to your writing ability. Continue Reading →
At Utah Valley University, I’m at the intersection of two unique situations.
(Or maybe they’re not so unique. Both situations can be found at other institutions of higher learning in Utah, though probably not to the degree that we have here in Happy Valley. But almost certainly they’re not found in other states. Anyway, the intersection itself is pretty remarkable, imho.)
First: a relatively high percentage of our students are LDS. Some are TBMs. Others are happily separated from churchgoing but inextricably yoked to the culture, a condition they either writhe against or roll with. And a fair number can (and do) say, “I was raised that way but I don’t do it any more.” They’re proud of it. Mormon, but not. We have a lot of those.
Second, we have a burgeoning creative writing program. There are more students in this emphasis in the English Department than in literary studies, Writing Studies, or education.
Mormon young people of all stripes, and a blossoming creative writing program—what more exciting intersection could there be?
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What do you write? Tell me about your published fiction, and your current work-in-progress (if you don’t mind.)
I have two historical novels published; one under the title Coincidence. With a strong Christian tone, the past and the present resemble each other in my tender WWII mystery where Annaliese risks her future career in her search for answers. It has a deep family history theme. Here is a quote taken from the story, “It’s the legacy our loved ones leave behind that is important, not how many years they actually lived on the earth.” The book is set in the Netherlands where my husband’s grandfather is from which gave it a personal feel as I wrote. Continue Reading →
An Interview with Jennifer Quist, Author of Sistering, Winner of the 2015 AML Novel Award
Jennifer Quist is a journalist and novelist from Edmonton, Alberta. Her first novel, Love Letters from the Angel of Death (2013), was a finalist for the Whitney Award and the basis of her Lieutenant Governor of Alberta’s Emerging Artist Award in 2014. Her second novel, Sistering, won the 2015 Association for Mormon Letters Award for the Novel, was long-listed for the Alberta Readers’ Choice Award, and was named a “Must-Read” of the 2015 fall season by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The interview was conducted by Michael Austin.
Let’s start with the biographical details. Could you briefly describe your life so far? Start from the beginning and go up to the point that you decided to become a rich and famous writer.
I was born in a remote pulp-mill town in the northern boreal forest. My father was ambitious and restless and moved our family all over the immense country of Canada. By the time I graduated from high school, I had gone to eleven different schools. It would have been lonely if it weren’t for my close sibling group of seven, our ward families, and the grace of God that unfailingly sent me the few good friends I prayed for everywhere we went. Continue Reading →
We continue our series of interviews with recent AML Award winners, with Rebecca J. Carlson’s interview of Christine Hayes, who won the 2015 AML Middle Grade Novel Award, for her debut novel, Mothman’s Curse. Hayes was also a finalist for the Whitney Middle Grade and Best Novel by a New Artist awards, and won the Friends of American Writers Young People’s Literary Award. Rebecca J. Carlson is an instructor at BYU-Hawaii.
On your blog you mention several of your favorite middle grade authors, like Cleary and Blume, and on the fantasy side Lloyd Alexander and C. S. Lewis. When I read Mothman’s Curse I thought it had a great classic children’s lit feel to it. Was that by design, or do you think you wrote it that way because that’s what you love to read?
Maybe a little of both! I was obsessed with reading as a child, but after taking a children’s literature course in college I was introduced to all kinds of authors I had somehow missed growing up—Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, John Bellairs, and so many more. That class definitely influenced my taste in books, so it makes sense that it also heavily influenced my preferred style of writing. Continue Reading →
We are reposting a blog post by Kaki Olsen, who was one of the finalists in the recent Mormon Lit Blitz.
Five years ago, the Association of Mormon Letters held its first Mormon Lit Blitz. I entered an essay on my complicated relationship with my parents and never got to the next round. I wrote a zombie apocalypse told from the perspective of a Mormon missionary later and had the same results. When I surprised myself and wrote free-verse poetry about my jerk of an ex wanting to be friends again, I made the semi-finals and was ecstatic. Continue Reading →
When I was asked to blog here on AML, I struggled to decide how I could best contribute to discussions. I landed on the idea of voices: we have a lot of discussion here on AML about the state of Mormon Literature, but (I believe) not enough voices in our community. With this in mind, I will be interviewing a different LDS author each month about the LDS writing communities they belong to. I’ll be asking about their experiences working with LDS publishers, as indie authors, or as writers working toward publication. I’ll also be collecting opinions about what they feel is working well in LDS literature, and what they feel could change for the better.
I am hoping that, in bringing fresh voices to the discussion, we will gain ideas about how to broaden AML’s reach, meet some unmet needs in the LDS writing community, and cultivate more diversity in AML.
To that end, I chose for my first interview Lucinda Whitney, an independent author of LDS romance. Continue Reading →
The Fluent Imagination
A couple of years ago I decided to learn another language. At first I just dabbled in it and learned a few words and phrases. Then as I learned a little more, I started to become, in stages, hungry, frustrated, intrigued, enchanted, and increasingly confident. Now, two and a half years after beginning, I find myself fluctuating between being hungry to learn more and happily becoming more and more confident. But I know I still have a very long way to go before I actually become fluent. I was thinking about this process of learning a language in relation to the way children develop their imagination. In this case, it is a lot more than just acquiring a good grasp of language. It involves figuring out how to think and make connections between the life within and the life outside of oneself. I believe that just as learning a new language is a long and hard and often rewarding and sometimes frustrating process, so too is learning to cultivate one’s imagination or to stimulate the imagination of a child.
Imagination is much more than just learning to use and apply language, and it is also not limited to fictional, “imaginary” things. The way I see it, developing an imagination depends on being exposed to many opportunities to think creatively. For example, in Beverly Cleary’s book Ramona the Brave, Ramona had to throw one of her shoes at a dog in order to get past him on the way to school. Of course her teacher was concerned when Ramona arrived with only one shoe, so she gave Ramona an old brown boot to wear to protect her foot. But, “Ramona did not want to wear an old brown boot, and she made up her mind she was not going to wear an old brown boot!” Now was the time for Ramona to think creatively and use her imagination. I think I know how she felt because I know the feeling of trying to solve a problem with the resources and raw materials at hand. I can almost feel Ramona’s brain cogs turning as she ponders the situation. “If only she had some heavy paper and a stapler, she could make a slipper, one that might even be strong enough to last until she reached home. She paid attention to number combinations in one part of her mind, while in that private place in the back of her mind she thought about a paper slipper and how she could make one if she only had a stapler.”
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